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In The Know: State revenue collections dipped in August

by | September 7th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that state revenue collections dipped in August when compared to the same month a year ago, mainly due to a dramatic drop in revenue from oil and gas production.  A state prison official is organizing a pilot program to use inmate labor to harvest Eastern red cedar trees.  An editorial in The Oklahoman warns that graduating more college students is critical to economic growth.

State Senator Judy Eason-McIntyre made an emotional appeal to state party members, accusing the organization of ignoring and under appreciating African-American activists.  Governor Mary Fallin appealed to the federal government for more funding to help Oklahoma families in need after devastating wildfires.

The Lieutenant Governor met with business leaders in Durant to discuss regional economic development issues.  A record number of Oklahoma high school students took the ACT this year, and officials say a state program for student planning and assessment may have contributed to the increase.  The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma is sponsoring a public forum on education next Saturday.

In today’s Policy Note, the New England Journal of Medicine disputes the claim that Medicare and Medicaid spending are ‘out of control.’  The Number of the Day is the increase in profits this year for Oklahoma banks, compared to the previous year.

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Upcoming Event: Public Education in Oklahoma – Return on Investment

by | September 6th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

[Update: This event has postponed to a future date, to be determined .]

The League of Women Voters of Oklahoma is sponsoring a public education forum on Saturday, September 15th in Tulsa.  The event will begin a citizen’s dialogue regarding Oklahoma’s public education system and its economic impact on the state’s future.  Attendees will hear and discuss information and opinions from informed speakers and develop advocacy goals for public education.

Speakers include Arnold Hamilton (Editor, Oklahoma Observer), David Blatt (Director, Oklahoma Policy Institute), Leigh Goodson (Tulsa School Board), Nancy McDonald (Retired Educator/Administrator), Dana Weber (President and CEO of Webco).  Presenters will address the state of public education in Oklahoma, the importance of quality education to the state’s economy, and issues of poverty and diversity.

Click here to register or get more information about the event.

In The Know: Texas companies mining in sensitive Oklahoma aquifer

by | September 6th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Texas-based mining companies have ramped up mining operations in a sensitive Oklahoma aquifer, with few regulations to protect the water. Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities exceeded degree completion goals with 1,900 more graduates than the previous year. The OK Policy Blog sets the record straight on Affirmative Action and State Question 759. Find info on all of this November’s ballot issues at our 2012 State Questions page.

Community members discussed possible uses of the proposed $748.8 million tax package at public hearings on Tulsa County’s Vision2 proposal. David Blatt’s Journal Record column examines the economic shift to more low-wage jobs.  Encana Corp said an internal investigation has determined that it did not collude with Chesapeake Energy Corp to lower land prices. A Justice Department investigation is continuing.

Republican congressional candidate Markwayne Mullin’s plumbing company was awarded around $370,000 in federal stimulus money. The Enid News & Eagle won a court case to be granted access to records sealed in a perjury trial. A Norman 3-year-old won $2,529 toward an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan.

The Number of the Day is how many jobs were added to the Oklahoma economy in 2011. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses dropping labor force participation due to more baby boomers hitting retirement age.

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7 Things You (Probably) Don't Know About Affirmative Action

by | September 5th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, State Questions | Comments (13)

One of the state questions on the general election ballot this November, SQ 759, proposes a ban on affirmative action in state employment, education, and contracting.  Ironically, supporters of the ban and SQ 759 oppose practices that are already illegal in Oklahoma, or never existed in the first place.  This post sets the record straight on affirmative action and considers carefully the unintended consequences of outlawing equal opportunity initiatives.

1. No ‘quotas’ for hiring or admitting minorities

Many people mistakenly believe that affirmative action is a quota system, where people are hired based on a ‘count’ of minorities that must be selected.  Public hiring quotas and contract preferences have been illegal in Oklahoma since the early 1980s.  The State Regents for Higher Education have never used minority admissions quotas.  The myth is so pervasive, even several legislators think that SQ 759 would eliminate quotas.

What is affirmative action?  In Oklahoma, state agencies report annually on the demographic make-up of their workforce, and are encouraged to improve outreach during the hiring process among demographics they find poorly represented.   The state Office of Personnel Management says affirmative action involves simply, “identifying departments in which the number of women or ethnic minorities is below that for the general workforce, then recruiting qualified candidates to address the situation.”

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In The Know: West Nile virus harder to combat in Oklahoma due to funding cuts

by | September 5th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that despite a record outbreak, Oklahoma’s efforts to fight West Nile virus have been limited due to federal funding cuts. Oklahoma’s Business Conditions Index took an upward turn in August, continuing to indicate growth in the coming months. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that per pupil spending in Oklahoma has dropped more than 20 percent since 2008. This was the third largest percentage decrease in the nation, behind only Arizona and Alabama.

Several Oklahoma County community health leaders are working on a plan to coordinate volunteer specialist care for the uninsured. Relatives and friends of inmates soon will be charged to deposit money into the inmates’ prison accounts. A special meeting of the Oklahoma City Council will examine how lessons learned in Fort Worth and Charlotte, N.C. can help with long-term planning in the metro.

The Columbia Journalism Review profiled how This Land Press is defying news-startup orthodoxy. In light of the conflict over Sardis Lake, This Land Press examined the history of water management in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma voters who think that the state Legislature is not doing enough to fund public schools. In today’s Policy Note, the National Women’s Law Center explains why closing the wage gap between men and women requires increasing the minimum wage.

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Oklahoma's per pupil spending has plummeted

by | September 4th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

Oklahoma’s economy has performed relatively well over the course of the Great Recession, compared to the nation as a whole. We’ve had lower unemployment numbers and decent income growth. Yet you wouldn’t know it to look at the state of school funding.

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that per pupil spending in Oklahoma has dropped more than 20 percent since FY 2008. This was the third largest percentage decrease in the nation, behind only Arizona and Alabama. In FY 2013, Oklahoma is spending $706 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars than we did in FY 2008.

Total state appropriations for common education have fallen by $220 million since FY 2008. From 2009 to 2011, more than 4,000 jobs were lost from Oklahoma’s elementary and secondary schools, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The result is larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, and less support from librarians, counselors, special education specialists, and others.

The recession has thankfully ended and the economy is growing again, but cuts to schools have not stopped. Because schools received flat funding with increasing enrollment, spending per student declined by 1.7 percent, or $49, from FY 2012 to FY 2013.

A strong education system is essential to creating and maintaining a thriving economy. Businesses need a well-educated workforce, and education cuts undermine the state’s ability to produce workers with the skills needed to compete in a global economy. Our economy is performing well today, but if we do not recommit ourselves to adequately fund education, we put our children and our future prosperity at risk.

In The Know: Oklahoma voter ID law unlikely to be overturned

by | September 4th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Oklahoma’s recently enacted voter-ID law is unlikely to be overturned by a court challenge as it has in other states. Members of the Oklahoma Americans Elect Party filed a lawsuit seeking to get their presidential and vice presidential nominees on the November ballot. With growing majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate, GOP legislative leaders are seeking to balance a broader spectrum of ideas and ideology.

Former State Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice is returning to Oklahoma City as executive director of the Variety Care Foundation. The Oklahoma Daily reported on OU students who could lose SNAP benefits that they rely on to feed their families. The Tulsa World examined risks for Oklahomans with pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Unemployment and mental health issues continue to concern military officials months after about 3,000 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers returned from deployments to Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Oklahoma received a score of 0.5 out of a possible 10 on an evaluation of state programs for pregnant and parenting students. Read the full report here. Thirteen Oklahoma school districts intend to apply for grants as part of the federal Race to the Top-District competition. A new Spanish-language education program launched by the government of Mexico and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa will help Tulsa-area Hispanics learn to read and write in their native language.

A dispute has led state drug agents to be evicted from the McAlester office they shared with DEA agents for a decade. A former Oklahoma County jail detention officer was arrested for beating an inmate, the second such case in the past two months at the county jail. Chesapeake Energy is selling about 80,000 acres in Oklahoma as it continues to combat a looming cash crunch.

The Number of the Day is how many uninsured adults under 65 were in Oklahoma in 2010. It today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute examines how the decline of unions has contributed to rising inequality and faltering middle-class wages.

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The Weekly Wonk: August 31, 2012

by | August 31st, 2012 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk is dedicated to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

This week OK Policy called for a more honest discussion about the trade-offs involved in tax and budget decisions. We re-ran a post about some “business-friendly” regulations in Oklahoma that are bad for the rest of us. We announced our upcoming event with Matthew Yglesias and Lauren Zuniga.

OK Policy Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses President Obama’s initiative to allow immigrants brought here as kids to contribute their talents without fear of deportation. David spoke with the Tulsa World about how the Medicaid expansion and other parts of the Affordable Care Act could dramatically reduce the number of uninsured in Oklahoma. NewsOK cited us in an editorial calling for a more open budget process.

Policy Notes

Quotes of the Week

  • If Grandma goes to the hair salon and returns with an unrequested Mohawk, that place will go out of business at a high rate of speed — regardless of government regulations. –The Oklahoman editorial board, arguing that Oklahoma should not require licenses for jobs like barber and cosmetologist.
  • There’s no such thing as totally free health care. Somebody has to pay for that, and the overall health care system works better for everyone if as many people as possible are paying into the system. –Chad Caldwell, executive director of Hospice Circle of Love in Enid, on the temporary high-risk pools established by the Affordable Care Act.
  • The state Rainy Day Fund totals $556 million, yet public schools function at 2008 funding levels and with several thousand more students. It seems disingenuous for state leaders to favor a robust state reserve account and then criticize schools for maintaining a reserve for the same purpose, which is to provide stability of services when funding fails to meet basic obligations. –Norman Schools Superintendent Joe Siano, responding to Rep. Jason Nelson’s claim that schools aren’t suffering financial hardship because they have carryover balances from the previous year
  • Lawmakers have simply approved lump sums to agencies in recent years instead of program-specific line-item appropriations, largely for political reasons. The recession forced spending reductions, but lawmakers didn’t want to take the heat for specific program cuts. So they refused to specify details in legislation. If lawmakers can’t defend their decisions, they don’t deserve re-election. –The Oklahoman editorial board
  • Knowing that you may have more drought or knowing that you may have floods is one thing. But what do you do about it? – Kim Winton, director of the South Central Climate Science Center at the University of Oklahoma. The new center will provide information to resource managers and the public about what changes they can expect to see from climate change and how to plan for them.

Click here for this week’s Numbers of the Day

In The Know: Overcrowding at Tulsa Jail prompts Sheriff to ask for release of inmates

by | August 31st, 2012 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that overcrowding at the Tulsa Jail has prompted the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office to ask local judges to expedite the release of inmates who are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. The early release of Patricia Spottedcrow, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of marijuana, appeared to be in limbo after a “clerical error” by the state parole board. Rep. Mike Ritze has asked Attorney General Scott Pruitt if Tulsa County Commissioners can legally propose the Vision2 tax extension that starts after they leave office.

Oklahoma Policy Institute and Booksmart Tulsa will host an evening with author and blogger Matthew Yglesias and Oklahoma poet Lauren Zuniga. Two companies received $6 million from a state loan program to finance the relocation of 100 jobs to Oklahoma. Chesapeake Energy is fighting more than a dozen lawsuits after it began reinterpreting in its favor thousands of contracts with landowners.

Profits at Oklahoma banks in the most recent quarter were more than 20 percent higher than those of the same period last year. A climate science center based at the University of Oklahoma is beginning to get off the ground. A statewide initiative by the State Department of Health and partner groups is seeking to reduce Oklahoma’s high levels of infant mortality.

The Number of the Day is the unemployment rate through June 2012 in Oklahoma if you include all workers who report that they need a full-time job, but don’t have one. In today’s Policy Note, SCOTUSblog analyzes a U.S. District Court decision to block Texas’s stringent voter ID law.

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Upcoming Event: An evening with Matthew Yglesias and Lauren Zuniga, Sept. 27

by | August 30th, 2012 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (1)

Matthew Yglesias

On Thursday, September 27, Oklahoma Policy Institute and Booksmart Tulsa will host an evening with author and blogger Matthew Yglesias. The event will be at the Dilly Deli, 402 East 2nd Street, Tulsa, OK 74120, beginning with refreshments at 7 pm and the program at 7:30 pm. It is free and open to the public.

Matthew Yglesias is one of America’s most widely-read and respected bloggers and columnists. He is a business and economics correspondent for Slate in Washington, DC, where he writes the Moneybox blog. Previously he was a fellow at the Center for American Progress, an associate editor at The Atlantic, and a staff writer for the American Prospect.

Yglesias frequently writes about foreign policyhealth caretechnologypolitics, and more. He is the namesake for popular blogger Andrew Sullivan’s Yglesias Award, given to “writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.”

Yglesias will discuss his e-book original, “The Rent Is Too Damn High,” published by Simon & Schuster in March. From the publisher’s description:

From prominent political thinker and widely followed Slate columnist, a polemic on high rents and housing costs—and how these costs are hollowing out communities, thwarting economic development, and rendering personal success and fulfillment increasingly difficult to achieve. Rent is an issue that affects nearly everyone. High rent is a problem for all of us, extending beyond personal financial strain. High rent drags on our country’s overall rate of economic growth, damages the environment, and promotes long commutes, traffic jams, misery, and smog. Yet instead of a serious focus on the issue, America’s cities feature niche conversations about the availability of “affordable housing” for poor people. Yglesias’s book changes the conversation for the first time, presenting newfound context for the issue and real-time, practical solutions for the problem.

Lauren Zuniga

Oklahoma poet Lauren Zuniga will kick off the event with a poetry reading. Recently voted Best Local Author by Oklahoma Gazette’s Best of OKC 2012, Lauren Zuniga is a nationally touring poet, teaching artist and activist. She is one of the top 5 ranked female poets in the world, the 2012 Activist-in-Residence at the OU Center for Social Justice, and the founder of Oklahoma Young Writers.

Her new book is “The Smell of Good Mud” from Write Bloody Publishing. You can see Zuniga performing one of her poems here.